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Systematic Reviews in Health

Research Protocol

Once the research question is formulated, the research protocol can be developed.  This is an important planning document that explicitly describes the methods for the review before any literature searching takes place.

The research protocol describes:

  • the rationale for the review,
  • the review objectives,
  • the methods to be used in locating, selecting and critically appraising identified studies, and
  • the methods for collecting, analysing and reporting data from included studies.

Protocols minimise bias, by guarding against arbitrary decision making during the conduct of the review, and variation from the review methods.  Protocols also enable readers of completed reviews to appraise the review methods, detect variations from review methods and assess for the presence of selective reporting.  They promote research integrity, accountability, and transparency of the completed review.1

Templates for Preparing a Research Protocol

There are templates available for developing a research protocol:

PRISMA-P extension

The PRISMA-P extension lists the items to include in a research protocol is now available.  The checklist aligns with the PRISMA reporting checklist to facilitate authors in transitioning their protocol into a report of a Systematic Review. 

NOTE: The PRISMA-P 2015 Explanation and Elaboration document should be read together with the PRISMA-P 2015 checklist.2

Cochrane Handbook

Section 2.2.2 of the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions lists the sections of a protocol for a Cochrane review.3

JBI Comprehensive Review Management System

Protocols for Systematic Reviews for the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports must be developed and submitted according to the JBI Author Guidelines.

Protocol Registration

If you are conducting a Systematic Review for publication, it is good practice to register the review.  PROSPERO is the international register of Systematic Reviews.  Registration should be done early.  It is also worth searching PROSPERO early to make sure there is not already a review underway or completed on the same topic as yours.  STUDENTS: Do not register reviews done as part of training courses, modules or other 'mini' reviews. Feel free to use the system in your learning and to help you develop a full protocol, but do not press the button to register.


1. Moher, D., et al. (2015). Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015 statement. Systematic reviews, 4, 1,1.  Available:

2. Shamseer, L., et al. (2015). Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015: elaboration and explanation. BMJ, 349: g7647. Avaliable:

3. Higgins, P.T., & Green, S. (eds.). (2008). Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions.  Chichester, England ; Hoboken, NJ : Wiley- Blackwell.  Available: